Boris Johnson has insisted that Gibraltar “will not be bargained away” during the Brexit negotiations after the UK Government came under pressure to safeguard the future of the Rock.
The Foreign Secretary’s intervention came after a European Union proposal to give Madrid a veto over decisions on Gibraltar’s future after the UK has left the bloc.
Spain, like other EU members, already had a veto on a final deal for a future relationship between the EU and the UK.
But the EU’s draft guidelines single out Gibraltar and appear to back Spain’s argument that the Rock is a bilateral matter between the UK and Spain.
The draft negotiation guidelines set out by European Council president Donald Tusk would require Spanish agreement for the Rock to be included in future agreements between the EU and UK on issues such as trade.
Gibraltar is addressed in a single paragraph of Mr Tusk’s nine-page document, which says: “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Mr Johnson told The Sunday Telegraph: “Gibraltar is not for sale. Gibraltar cannot be traded. Gibraltar will not be bargained away.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has been criticised in the UK for failing to mention Gibraltar in her letter triggering Article 50, starting the Brexit process, with claims the omission opened the door for Spain to further its claims over the territory.
But Mr Johnson stressed: “The policy of the Government remains fixed and firm. The sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the express consent of the UK and the people of Gibraltar.”
He praised Gibraltar’s “vibrant business centre” and said its harbour remains a “key Nato asset” because it can take nuclear submarines.
“The UK Government can be counted on to stick up for those interests – for instance in insurance and maritime services – which create jobs not just in Gibraltar but in the wider region of southern Spain.”
“The status of Gibraltar has been unchanged since 1713. It made no difference when the UK joined the Common Market in 1973 and when Spain was not yet a member. It should make no difference today.”
“So let us go into these discussions with goodwill and optimism and get a deal that is good for the UK, good for Spain, and good for the people of Gibraltar.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is a slap in the face for the people of Gibraltar who are the ones who most vehemently supported remaining in the European Union.”
He added: “It is unfair, it demonstrates that Spain will use any opportunity to try and advance its claim to Gibraltar.”
The UK’s Shadow Brexit secretary, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, warned that the people of Gibraltar must not become a “bargaining chip” in talks.
Spoke to Brexit Secretary David Davis this morning about vital need to protect sovereignty & interests of Gibraltar. Not a bargaining chip.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 1, 2017